Diocesan News

Service Is ‘Most Important Thing’ For East New York Octogenarian

Five days a week, 88-year-old Virgina Clines can be found at her desk in the rectory of St. Michael-St. Malachy parish, East New York. She’s been volunteering at the parish for 75 years. (Photo Marie Elena Giossi)

Angela and Harry Clines names are inscribed on a bell inside the 125-foot tall tower at St. Michael’s Church in East New York. It is a testament to the Clines family’s faith and service to one of the diocese’s oldest churches, and that legacy continues today.

Virginia Clines has followed in her parents’ footsteps through her lifelong commitment to lay ministry in the Church, which began when she joined the children’s choir in seventh grade.

Now at age 88, she volunteers five days a week in the rectory, serves as a lector at Saturday evening Mass and is the unofficial historian and archivist at what has become St. Michael-St. Malachy parish. Though she doesn’t sing anymore, she continues to minister with a song in her heart.

Looking back on 75 years of service in the church, she said it was never anything she planned or expected to do. One ministry led to others and a greater commitment to serve.

“And then you begin to realize this is the most important thing, probably in your life,” Clines said.

“I enjoy what I’m doing and I feel this is how I can fulfill my ministry as a Catholic parishioner so I just keep going.”

She stands on the shoulders of three earlier generations of her family who have served the parish – German relatives on her mother’s side at St. Michael’s, and her father’s Irish forebears at St. Malachy. Clines was born and baptized into St. Michael’s parish in 1930, she said, “and I’ve been here ever since.”

Unlike most of her six siblings, she never married or moved away, and did not feel called to religious life like two of her sisters, Sister Mary James, R.G.S., and her late twin, Sister Margaret, O.P.

But she didn’t have to go far to find – or fulfill – her life’s mission of service, starting with the children’s choir and then the adult choir.

Black and white photos from those days show Clines and fellow choristers in gowns and tuxedos for parish concerts, and candid snapshots of them caroling at Christmastime, making stops outside the local firehouse and shops.

Claim to Fame

The group’s “claim to fame,” Clines said, was singing for then-Msgr. Fulton Sheen’s show on NBC Radio, “The Catholic Hour.”

“One time during Lent, they asked us to be on the show for about seven weeks, which we thought was a pretty cool thing,” she said. “We used to go to Radio City and I used to think, ‘Oh, I’m part of this chorus that’s going out all over the world.’”

She found new opportunities when the Second Vatican Council opened doors for more lay involvement. She attended diocesan workshops to stay up-to-date on these developments and liturgical norms.

“These changes were coming about and I kind of lived through all of them and educated myself,” she said. “Everything was always changing and you felt that you were part of it.”

Education has been another of Clines’ passions in life, personally and professionally. For 40 years, she balanced her active role at church with service as a public school teacher. She taught social studies at Grover Cleveland H.S., Ridgewood, for three decades before retiring to take care of her aging mother until her death.

As the face of the parish moved from German and European, to  become Hispanic and African- American, changes were reflected in various ministries, and Clines embraced newcomers and their ideas with respect. She became well-known and loved among the leadership of the Latino community.

“I used to get involved in whatever they were doing,” she said.

Father Brendan Buckley, O.F.M. Cap., pastor of St. Michael-St. Malachy parish, East New York, says Virginia Clines is “one in a million.”

A Little Bit of Everything

In fact, she became involved in a little bit of everything, from the altar society and liturgy committee, to becoming a lector and an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist. She continues to write the Sunday Mass petitions and update a  board of weekly feasts in the parish vestibule.

And since 1997, she has been an affiliate of the Capuchin Franciscans of the Province of St. Mary, the order that administers her parish. Her family has been dedicated to the Capuchin Franciscan – “praying for them a lot,” she said, and her parents were among the first affiliates.

“The friars have held her family in great regard and love,” said Father Brendan Buckley, O.F.M. Cap., St. Michael’s pastor. “They helped build this church,” he said,  financially and spiritually.

As for Clines herself, Father Buckley described her as “dedicated and selfless.”

“We love her. She’s a one in a million,” he said. “People give in many ways. She has her vision and history and that pushes her in particular directions. We are blessed, absolutely blessed, to have her here.”

Though Clines retired from the choir in the late 1990s, she loves to sit near them in church and listen to them give praise to God. “Even if I can’t sing physically, I sing in my heart,” Clines said.

Barbara Garcia has known Clines for 30 years and marvels at her faith and faithfulness. “She’s an inspiration to me – her faith, everything about her,” said Garcia, business manager at the parish.

“She comes to Mass every single day. Even in bad weather, and bitter cold, she will take a cab here, she’ll walk, she drives,” Garcia said. “If she can do that, there’s no reason any of us can’t do it.”